Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday And A Recipe’s Provenance

Oy! For Fat Tuesday, all I wanted to do was to make the gorgeous pea pancakes that my great buddy, Cynthia, featured on her blog this week. She and I share the practice of NEVER posting someone else’s recipe without permission, so she had a link to the recipe.

I was all ready to make them, but the cooking of the sugar snap peas didn’t seem nearly long enough to me, so I was searching around for OTHER pea pancake recipes. It’s such an unusual recipe, I actually didn’t expect to find anything, but boy, did I!

Here’s the fabulous recipe that Cynthia used and that I intended to use, posted in June of 2009.

Now look, HERE is Chef Melissa Clark’s recipe from her book Chef, Interrupted published IN 2005. Almost exactly the same.

To be fair, the blogger did change ¼ cup of flour to 4 tablespoons of flour.

THERE’S JUST ONE PROBLEM: A quarter cup of flour IS 4 tablespoons of flour!

AND his changing of 2 tablespoons of whole milk and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream to 3 tablespoons of half and half really didn't fool me one bit.

He also changed the garnish of ½ cup crème fraiche to 1 cup.

Strictly speaking, changing 2 or 3 ingredients OR changing the method SUBSTANTIALLY does qualify as changing a recipe, but he didn’t even make enough of THOSE changes. And, come on, it’s obvious he used Clark’s recipe. It’s certainly obvious enough to warrant an “adapted from”.

My friend, Tom writes about this too. He likes the term "inspired by", but, of course, he's talking about recipes that he's changed extensively.

All this blogger guy (who identifies himself as a private chef) would have had to say is that he came across a recipe from Melissa Clark’s book and that he adapted it.

I found it in only two clicks and I really wasn’t trying to trip him up. He has some gorgeous food on his blog and great pictures and he does give credit to other cooks sometimes, but he made THIS recipe sound like HE thought it up and that kind of stinks.

Needless to say, I made Melissa Clark's version, but, frankly, I didn’t exactly follow the method from EITHER recipe.

I blanched the sugar snap peas for 3 minutes, instead of 2, and I puréed all the ingredients together, instead of bothering to mash the peas separately with a fork. After topping them with sour cream, I finished some with prosciutto and some with smoked salmon.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

The thing about copyrights is that you can't copyright an idea. You can only copyright the expression of that idea. (I did retain something from the communication law and ethics class in college), so changing the wording of the same recipe is pretty legal unfortunately. It may not be ethical, but it's legal.

I missed out on the Mardi Gras pancake/doughnut thing. Now I have to wait 40 days to have ti again. Wait a second! I'm not religious. Haven't been to church outside of a wedding, baptism or funeral since college. I think I'll make some pancakes now.

Sue said...

Hi Rach,
Enjoy those pancakes!

Oh gosh, I have SO much to say (as usual) about your comment.

Luckily for Melissa Clark, THAT recipe was in her cookbook, Chef, Interrupted and so that even if folks wanna think that stealing recipes on the blogosphere is okay, it's less likely to happen with a cookbook-published recipe.

THIS is what the U.S. Goverment's Copyright Office says about recipes:
"When a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection."
And the more detailed and specific the directions, the more likely it is to fall under the copyright protection.

There are actually two issues here. One is plain and simple plagiarism, which clearly this guy is guilty of. The other is copyright violation, which he MAY be guilty of.

Also, to your point, he wasn't ONLY using her IDEA, he was using her EXACT recipe, except for one or two changes that were SO transparent - 4 tbls flour instead of 1/4 cup!!! - I really love that one - that they weren't actually changes.

It's like the Supreme Court on Pornography, in this case, I KNOW stealing when I see it and I think, legal or illegal, it HAS to be spoken out against.

DebCarol said...

I like this discussion. Thin line being walked here by rewording a line or two and claiming it as your own. But you know Sue ~ I believe there are far more ethical people out there (like you), than there are cheaters . . . so good (and pancakes) will triumph in the end.

Emily said...

Mmm pancakes. I COMPLETELY agree with you. You know where I stand on this issue.

I don't see why people can't link to the source of the recipe or say where they got it from. They shouldn't claim it as their own!

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting discussion. Even if the blogger didn't get the recipe from that particular source, he probably didn't invent it himself, and it's always better to give credit to those whose work you've used. It may have been an oversight, but the clumsy changes make that seem unlikely.

While we all know that few recipes are truly unique inventions, many cookbooks and cooking shows act as if they were. I would definitely like to see FN show hosts giving us a bit more info on where their recipes came from too.

Sue said...

Hi ya DC,
It's funny. I have no problem with lying and cheating in real life. ;-) But when it comes to recipes - that's MY line in the sand!

Yes, yes and YES!

You put it so much more nicely that I did. I promise you he got it from Melissa Clark! There were such slight changes that it was obvious. It really is true that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, quacks like a duck - it IS a duck! Or however that expression goes...